Cursing & Swearing

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.   
Matthew 12:36

One time I thought everyone knew swearing was un-acceptable and moreover, wrong. I've changed my opinion.

I was in a pastor's office, listening to him and his assistant condemn my stand that Christians need to deal with sin in fellow believers. They started out by informing me they refused to open the Bible to look at the subject. The lecture went on for a couple hours. Near the end, the pastor's dog started barking at someone outside the church. This infuriated him. He yelled for someone to shut the dog up and used the Lord's name in vain in his fury! He appeased the use of foul language during his talk by saying everyone uses it sometimes, like when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

My wife was talking with a youth, who happened to be a pastor's son. She asked him what their church taught about swearing. His response was surprising. He said that where the Bible talks about cursing, the cursing is different to swearing. He didn't see the Bible condemn it. He said he didn't use it, but some of his Christian friends did. She also encountered a youth who, when told using the Lord's name in vain carried the death penalty in the Old Testament, he couldn't believe that was in the Bible.

I've seen many, who call themselves Christians, swear. I thought they didn't care, but maybe, for some, they're ignorant. Our society's so corrupt, even Christians are ignorant of what the Bible says, even preacher's children, who you would expect to know better.
Lets look at the different types of swearing:

Using God's Name In Vain

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.   
Exodus 20:7

This is one of the Ten Commandments. If you've heard this commandment before, have you wondered why God gave such a command? Look at another passage, it gives more to ponder:
10 And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and the man of Israel strove together in the camp; 11 And the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:) 12 And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them. 13 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.           
Leviticus 24:10-16

Why such a command, and even more, why such a severe penalty? Under our form of government, we don't view authority in quite the same way one would under a monarchy. Look at the Persians in the book of Esther. If you went before the king to make a request without being called, you risked immediate death:

11 All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.   
Esther 4:11

If you knew the ruler had that kind of power, you would approach him with great respect. Appearing before God should be with even greater fear and trembling. He's so great, He's the creator of all! Just as we would show respect before a monarch, so we show respect before the greatest authority of all. All that refers to Him is to be treated with reverence. To use His name irreverently is to use His name as a vain usage, just an expression. He is holy, pure and powerful. To use his name casually is like walking in before the Persian king and saying, 'Hey dude, how's it goin'?' Only the dead did that!

Using Various Religious Expressions
What about other religious expressions: Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, Lord, Jesus and Holy Cow or Holy Moses?

16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.   
Matthew 23:16-22
This passage says a lot about things referring to God or His holiness. To not use His title 'God', yet use His title 'Lord' is fingered in this passage. You're referring to Him. In everything referring to Him, we have to show reverence. I know people that use 'Hallelujah' as an expression, but aren't really praising the Lord when they say it. This is using His name in vain. 'Hallelujah' means 'praise the Lord', using an abbreviated form of His name revealed to Moses. I've seen people making fun of those who praise the Lord in churches shouting 'Hallelujah'. If we're not truly praising Him or talking about the word when we use it, we're using His name in vain. People often say 'Thank God', yet aren't really giving Him thanks. This is also a vain usage. An orator in Hyde Park of London was speaking against religion. He said, 'My hatred of religion is honestly come by; my grandfather was an atheist; my father was an atheist; and, thank God, I'm an atheist, too.' What clearer example of praise in vanity could you find?

I remember watching a Christmas special on a 'Christian' TV station. I didn't watch long. The host used the Lord's name in vain. Many preachers use His name in vain. I think because they're always talking about Him, they don't stop to think about whether or not what they're saying is necessarily about Him.
Jesus is God, and to use His name as an expression is to use God's name in vain.
Expressions such as 'Holy Cow' or 'Holy Moses' fall in the same class as in Matthew 23:16-22 . Think about it. Why do men use religious items for meaningless expressions? Moses is a holy servant of God and should be held in respect and honor. His sister and brother complained about him and God smote his sister with leprosy for it (Numbers 12:1-15). Crass over-familiarization with God and the things of God are an abomination.
The term 'Holy Cow' and 'By Jove' comes under the classification of referring to pagan gods. When you think of a holy cow, you have either of two references: the cow the Israelites made when Moses was receiving the ten commandments, or the cows that Jeroboam made to cause Israel to sin in idolatry. 'By Jove' refers to swearing by the Roman god 'Jupiter'. Sometimes, in fact, the expression is 'By Jupiter' instead of 'By Jove'.

13 And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.   
Exodus 23:13

Considering this verse, it can't be acceptable to use expressions referring to other gods or their consecrated items.
Look at the word 'Shazaam'. That's a word I thought was dead until I heard an ad on the Christian radio station using it. Did you ever see the Saturday morning TV show 'Shazaam'? The introduction told how the character got his powers calling on 'Shazaam', a pagan Greek god. For that matter, the term 'abracadabra', used for magic shows is the same thing. 'Abracadabra' is actually an incantation, and I've seen the word on a list of names of pagan gods. If the word is actually the name of some pagan deity, then to call that name in the performance of a magic trick is the same as appealing to a demon for special powers. You may have done it ignorantly in the past, but now you should know better.
What about our 'lucky stars'. Some people thank them all the time. What lucky stars? Only the followers of astrology believe in lucky stars and actually give thanks to them. God is the one who deserves any thanks we may sincerely offer.
I feel there's an area God overlooks, due to ignorance. Using His name is truly no account for ignorance, but other expressions have a certain plausibility. For example: The Leave it to Beaver expressions such as 'Gosh' and 'Gees' were used because they were thought, by the society of the day, they were clean words. Wicked adults would use God's name in vain, but forbid children to talk like them. The children would as closely approximate them as they could, and not use the same words. So we have 'Gosh' to replace 'God' and 'Gees' to replace 'Jesus'. I saw a term for those words I thought pretty well fit: 'Minced Oaths'. Oaths are swearings and minced is mangled. So the swear words were slightly mangled so children wouldn't exactly be swearing, but still sound like their parents. God may wink at our ignorance and the action based on simplicity in trying to watch our language, but God is not mocked in knowing the origin of such words.

Language of Pagan Religious Origins
Our language is full of perversity that crept in as it developed. For example: The term for our common word, 'cereal' came from the name of the Roman god Ceres. Much of our language is based upon pagan religions. The days of the week demonstrate this: 'Wednesday' from Woden's day, a Norse god and 'Friday' from Fria's day, another Norse god, to name a few. If we left out all words of pagan religious origins, we probably couldn't intelligently communicate in the English language. The use of such words, for intelligent communication, is sanctioned in scripture by looking at the book of Daniel. Daniel's three friends were given names to honor pagan gods by their captors, and these became the names they used. Read the book of Daniel and you'll see they refused to do anything forbidden by God, even if it meant their death (bow to idols, eat forbidden foods), but they didn't refuse acknowledging their new names.

The lesson's clear. Intelligent communication using our language is proper, but needless vain expressions of no thought, referring to pagan gods or things to be held with reverence, is unacceptable.
 Jesus said:

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.   
Matthew 12:36
Seeing we have to account for vain expressions, why are we nonchalant in our speech? Don't we fear God, or don't we believe what Jesus said?

Using the Nasty Words
One of my great grandmothers was a devout Roman Catholic. She lived in England where the word 'bloody' is always used. It's a swear word. She was working with some meat and commented on how 'bloody' the meat was. It dawned on her she'd just used that word referring to the meat's condition. She hurried to the local parish to the confessional. That's a case of not thinking a thing out, but it carries a lesson for us. Sometimes, we hear expressions and think they're cute, so we start using them. We need to be careful of assumptions. I've come across people who use the word 'bloody' totally unaware it's a swear word. The story of my great grandmother gives some proof it is.

Another word, which I won't repeat, is an expression used on a comedy show called Mork and Mindy. Mork used words for vain expressions that were supposed to come from his planet. I heard that one of the most common of his words is actually a Russian word meaning a rather nasty thing. We need to know what the words mean we choose to use. Don't just use them because they sound cute.

Looking at the source of our words, let's examine another semi-common word. The toilet was not always called 'toilet'. It's a device created by a man named Thomas Crapper. It was originally called 'The Crapper Device'. From that origin, we see where this older expression comes from. It refers to defecating. Human tendency is to chose expressions from either the holy list, showing irreverence, or from the list of baser activities. How can we be free and clean choosing expressions that come from either category?

I've heard Christians using initials of curse words thinking it's OK since they weren't actually saying the words. To refer to them is to put the words into the hearers minds. It's still saying the swear words.

Various Biblical Passages
I encountered someone strongly offended by the use of God's name in vain, but finding nasty words acceptable. I suppose it's like the pastor's son who didn't think the Bible spoke about swear words beyond using God's name in vain. Let's look at a number of verses on the subject:

In the following verse, the meaning in regards to nasty words is clear. What's more, the verse isn't a suggestion, it's a command. It not only covers what not to say, but what should come from us. This is an excellent guide. We can ask ourselves if the expression we use does good or evil to those who hear us. Does it demonstrate expression in all purity, or does it defile another's ears and mind?

29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.   
Ephesians 4:29

The following verse is a killer to arguments like the one a pastor gave me saying everyone swears now and then. 'Let it not once be named among you', that's strong. No slip ups allowed for by Paul in this verse. Paul listed the filthiness, as that which should never, ever by practiced by Christians, which would include our vocabulary. Foolish talking would also hit directly at nasty words. This passage tells us more than what not to do, but guides for discernment. In other words, can you say the expression you use is compatible with a spirit showing thanks? And if you say 'Praise the Lord' are you really turning you heart to Him in praise?

3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.    
    Ephesians 5:3-4

I've known people meeting the description in the following verses. It's obvious from the passage the cursing isn't cursing like 'cursed be he that removes his neighbor's landmark'. The cursing is swearing as we hear everywhere today. For those who love such words, this passage has a sting to it:

17 As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. 18 As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones. 19 Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.           
Psalm 109:17-19

In James we get into the use of the tongue. It states the use of our tongue is a dead give away to whether or not we're really Christians:

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.   
James 1:26

The wise have good conversation. If the conversation isn't good, what's that say about us?
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
    James 3:8-13

The righteous purposefully guards their mouths. The tongue isn't left to mere impulse. As this passage says, it's to be bridled:

1 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.   
Psalm 39:1

The following passage says it much like Ephesians. Put away filthy talk. It looks closer at origins. The filthy talk is the result of the old man. Being Christians, we've put on a new man and the old should be history. The description of the new mans enlightening. This character doesn't allow for the use of nasty words. It shows the condition of praise should be what's seen.

The last verse of the passage packs a punch. What we use in words should be what Jesus would use. No one, who isn't being blasphemous of the Lord's character, could say Jesus would use nasty, base words. Consider further. If we're born-again, we're representatives of Jesus. If we use nasty words, we're telling the world Jesus talks like that. That places us under a lot of responsibility. What's more, to besmirch His character like that is to literally blaspheme Him. A person who does that, by what right can he say he's a disciple of Christ? Our fruit would says otherwise. Now read the passage:

8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. 9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; 10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: 11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.   
Colossians 3:8-17

My wife signed our son up for a baseball team. I thought that was great, until I went to the practice after he complained of the language. I went and ended pulling my son from the team. We were looked down on for our stand against swearing. To do the evil wasn't viewed as bad as to take a stand against the evil. One Christian parent on the team said she would like to think her child wouldn't swear, but couldn't help it if he did. Summarizing the thought, 'He hears it at school and it can't be avoided on TV. It'll have its effects in acclimatizing us, so it's an unavoidable evil.' Another said, 'We need to let our children be around those who use such language so they can be witnesses.' The arguments go back and forth, but the issue boils down to, 'Do we abhor the evil or just say we do for religious, moral reasons?'

9b ...Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.   
Romans 12:9b
Cursing is to be abhorred. Let's see an example of consistency. If we watch a movie and there's swearing, do we turn it off, or leave the theaters? To say we abhor swearing, yet not turn the movie off is two-faced. We watch movies of our own free wills. We watch for relaxation. If there's swearing, the Bible tells us such should vex us (2 Peter 2:6-8; Psalms 101:3). If we abhor something, it nauseates (vexes) us so we get away from it. If we don't put it far from us, when it's within our ability to do so, we don't honestly hate it.

Getting back to my son's baseball team, if I don't draw the line saying, 'swearing won't be tolerated', my son will learn, from my lack of commitment in battle, 'swearing's a mild irritant, but certainly not to be abhorred'. If I find swearing's tolerated and don't pull my son, I'm a hypocrite to my child. I essence I'm saying, 'abhor the swearing,' but my actions say, 'for a little fun the passion that comes with abhorrence can be abated'. They would pick up the implied meaning through my lack of action and wouldn't learn to abhor it themselves.

Gaining Proper Perspective
One problem bringing the seriousness of language abuse to proper perspective, is the hardness we develop living amidst continual abuse. Society has become extremely base, as a whole, throughout history. The Romans during the early church made coliseums for sport. The people thronged to these sporting events. You know what they saw? Men forced to fight each other to death. Ships battle each other until one was totally destroyed. The people watched Christians fed alive to lions. The coliseums are stained with the blood of who knows how many. Bringing similar acclimatizing to bear on foul language, picture this: We're back at the baseball practice. If our society found it appealing to torture animals, we can envision that if an animal meandered by, some on the team might fetch it to torture. This goes on several times during the practice. As a parent, with our present perspective, we would be appalled. We would pull our children from such a team. What if it happened, on the average, once per practice? Is that infrequent enough we would put up with it? I should hope not! Why should even once per practice be too much? IT'S ABOMINABLE, that's why! We naturally, at present, abhor such conduct. As such abuse became more and more accepted and practiced in our society, we would grow calloused and eventually tolerate it.

With foul language, we hear it at work, on the street, buying groceries and (truly God forbid) in our churches. It's around us everywhere. End result, we no longer 'abhor' it. We justify our callousness saying we don't use it or appreciate it. We think this is the heart condition God calls us to have. Such iniquity should bring more grief than that! We'll go through this world with grief. Lot was vexed continually in Sodom (2 Peter 2:6-9). He was termed a 'righteous' man. A continual grief is not an evil thing. In the midst of iniquity, it's a healthy sign! Remember Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 9:1-6). He saw God command His servant to go into Jerusalem, marking on the forehead all that mourned over the evil in the city, that sighed continually because of sin. After him, the messengers of death followed, slaughtering those who didn't have this mark. Where do you stand? Our hearts have grown cold. Call upon God to renew a right spirit within us.
We can't avoid exposure to iniquity. Disciplining the world isn't a charge God gave us (I Corinthians 5); however, we can seek God's face to put His heart, His view in us through His Holy Spirit (Psalms 51:10). God's command to us is:

15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.   
I Peter 1:15,16

God said we would be bizarre to the rest of the world:

14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.   
Titus 2:14

God hears more foul language in one day that you'll hear in your lifetime, but He still abhors it. Do we? If so, do we care enough to do something about it? It boils down to whether we really love the Lord. If we love Him, we'll keep his commandments:

3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him.  
 I John 2:3-5

Do we care about what's pleasing to Him? If swearing doesn't really bother us, after hearing what His word has to say, our claim to know Him has to be as the above passage says - a lie. If this is the case, call on the Lord to grant you a repentant heart and turn to Him. He can make you pure. He can enable love for Him to truly be there, and hatred of all that He hates. You'll be able to say with all purity, 'Praise the Lord' and mean it.

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Free to Copy under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND3.0 License by Darrell Farkas
All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible

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